“New York lawsuit seeks ‘legal personhood’ for chimpanzees”

by Walter Olson on December 3, 2013

On a practical level, corporate and organizational “personhood” has worked coherently for more than a century. Will this? [Reuters, Science; earlier on corporate personhood ("established and relatively uncontroversial," and progressive in its legal implications)] A Twitter reaction: “If they get the right to air political ads they can only improve the discourse.” [@jacobgrier]

More seriously, Prof. Bainbridge provided an answer to the question both on Twitter (“We treat corporations as people because it is a useful fiction. Animals as persons is not useful.”) and then in a longer blog post, which concludes:

The problem, I believe, is that attempts to define the debate in moral or philosophical terms ignores the basic fact that the rationale for corporate personhood sounds in neither. Instead, it is based on practicality and utility. Put another way, we treat the corporation as a legal person because doing so has proven to be a highly efficient way for real people to organize their business activities and to vindicate their rights. Put yet another way, we treat the corporation as a legal person because it is a nexus of contracts between real persons. Which is something no animal can ever be.

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Yoh! WTF? New York lawsuit seeks ‘legal personhood’ for chimpanzees | Reuters | Yoh! WTF?
12.04.13 at 7:07 pm

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1 nl7 12.03.13 at 1:59 am

The notion of separate existence for trusts or businesses is the prior assumption that they are distinct from their members or caretakers. Contract law recognizes the distinction people naturally see. It has practical use but probably has more grounding in basic intuition and fairness.

Human civil rights exist to protect human natural rights, not just to be practical. Saying that animal rights must be practical first is assuming the conclusion.

2 MattS 12.03.13 at 11:11 am

nl7,

The linked article is not saying that animal rights must be practical first. The author is responding to attempts to ground the arguments for animal personhood in the legal justifications for corporate personhood.

Corporate personhood exists for entirely practical reasons and those reasons are inapplicable to animals.

3 Allan 12.03.13 at 1:03 pm

I have no problem with corporations having rights. However, the rights corporations should have should not be constitutional, but statutory. If corporations are “legal fictions,” as Prof. B. suggests, that means they are a creature of statutes. If states and the federal government want corporations to have rights, so be it. Codify the rights if we want them.

4 William Nuesslein 12.05.13 at 12:04 pm

Should the chimp that ripped off the face of a woman be arrested for attempted murder?

5 Ron Miller 12.05.13 at 2:45 pm

A useful fiction? I’m not expert on this. But the question of whether corporate speech and donations are protected under the First Amendment seem to be more than just something that is practical. They get to use their personhood as as sword and a shield that that is hardly uncontroversial. Allan’s point I think is right. These corporate rights should not be grounded in the Constitution.

With apologies to Mitt Romeny, couldn’t we call it something else?

The Jon Stewart-type point here is that a chimp has many similarities to a human. It feels suffering. It seems odd they don’t get the person bump up but corporations do.

6 wfjag 12.05.13 at 5:02 pm

@Ron Miller:
“The Jon Stewart-type point here is that a chimp has many similarities to a human. It feels suffering. It seems odd they don’t get the person bump up but corporations do.”

Sounds like personhood would be a bump down. There are laws against abuse of animals, and organizations like the Humane Society and PETA that will act to protect animals (or, at least say they will). In contrast, especially after the Westboro Baptist decision, abusing corporations and their owners appears to be only regulated to the extent permitted by the First Amendment.

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